Just some Tidbits

Alright peeps … you know I love you all so here is some little info from the ICT Trade Mission.

1. YouTube is NEVER getting unblocked. Nope. Got it from the horse’s mouth (funny expression, right?). Had a lively (ahem) disucssion right at the Google HQ at Mountain View. So happens that YouTube/Google has banned the blasphmous video which was why YT was blocked in dear ol’ Pakistan. NOT because YT/G suddenly becamse sensitive to Muslim feelings but because an actor in the video filed a copyright or something suit. Now PTA has no reason to keep the website blocked except that if anyone dares to give verdict in its favor some WAY BETTER Muslim than any of us will take offence and decide that person no longer has the right to live. You know what I mean? So that’s that.

2. The not-so-important ministries in Pakistan such as the IT Ministry are given away to whoever raises their hand first. ‘Nuff said.

3. Higher echelons believe we (as in Pakistanis) don’t have enough talent and hence foreign governments need to step in not only to give us monetary aid but also intellectual aid. For example, NO ONE in Pakistan knows about eGovernance so the government would like to import people who do. Ummm … I’d like to request the Pakistani government to please use google for something other than looking for stuff to ban. Thank you.

4. No one is doing business with Pakistan because we don’t have good piracy laws and the few that we do are not implemented. One point raised was about downloading movies and music. My question to them was, “I want to use iTunes and Amazon etc to buy music, ebooks, movies but we don’t have PayPal and our credit cards are not accepted online. NOT watching latest movies or listening to music is not an option. So, what choices do I have?” Was that a fair question? *Hint: Do not respond unless it’s in the affirmative.

5. Microsoft won’t come to Pakistan until we stop using pirated software. A point raised by many on the delegation: MS needs to lower its prices because when it comes to a choice between ridiculously expensive and free, guess which wins? Pakistan is a good sized market and currently we are using the software for free. If they lower the price a bit we will pay for it because who likes to see that annoying “Your copy of Windows/MS is not registered” message pop up all the time? I wouldn’t mind paying $50 for a good bundle with Outlook and Publisher.

If this gets me into trouble I promise I will write a much more detailed post ‘coz that’s how I roll ;)

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Some ministers believe that YouTube is not relevant to a country like Pakistan and small businesses working with social media do not matter. #facepalm

ICT Trade Mission

Been back a while from my awesome possum trip to the US. Still horrendously jetlagged or maybe its the winter creeping into my ol’ bones and making me lazy. Dunno. Either way, about time I got my act together and started workign ‘coz I tell you my peeps, I got tons to do.

This blog post is not gonna be any different than previous ones. Just confused, random thoughts all over the place. But it helps me get stuff out of the way onto this digital page so I can start thinking about new stuff or put things into perspective. So here we go.

Was invited to a one week ICT Trade Mission by the US State Department. Me and a couple other women were sponsored by the US-Pakistan Women Council hence how I was there. Yes, I am still poor and can not afford a trip to Murree never mind the US. Had some big shots from the Pakistani ICT industry including minsiters, chairman this-and-that, CEOs of fancy firms. US Ambassador to Pakistan accompanied us on the mission. Actually, the whole thing was his idea. He is really keen on geteting trade dialogue going between the 2 countries. Great guy except that he was at Google HQ in Mountain View and it was his first time and he was completely calm!! How can you not be excited about being inside Google? I asked what would get him as excited as us  and he said a trip to the beach. But why, I ask you? You can Google the beach! Oh well … !

10502009_10152528756143621_8278686722985949503_n

Spent 2 days in Washington DC. Stayed at the same hotel I did 3 years ago while on Artemis/10k. Missed the girls terribly. Walked through rain to the National Mall, visited Capitol Hill, went to the Smithsonians – and did all of this in my kolhapuris. I AM INVINCIBLE! And just in case you don’t know what a kolhapuri is:

Kolhapuris

Met Saba Ghouri at the State Department. I almost cried. Had been reminiscing about her just an hour ago with a friend and telling her how she was in Islamabad these days. And in she walked. Got to meet new director of US Pak Women Council, new director Econ at US Embassy Islamabad, had a great meeting with Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell.

Had my dream come true as we flew to San Francisco to spend 4 dreamy days at Silicon Valley. I DIED of excitement. Visited Stanford, almost got run over by the campus bus, had a mouth-gaping-wide-open lecture by 2 professors, decided I love the academia more than any other specie, was given a personal tour of the campus by one of the professors. It was one of those moments when your faith in God multiplies by a gazillion times and its reaffirmed that He listens to everything I say to Him but He waits for the right moment to grant you your wish.

Went down to Microsoft and Google and Oracle HQs for meetings. They were all great but somehow they paled in comparison to Stanford.

Here is the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

I am the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Junglee in Stanford - see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn't wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Junglee in Stanford – see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn’t wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Take aways:

- Made acquaintance of some wonderful people who accompanied us on the trade mission. Got to know others I knew from before more closely and some misconceptions were removed.

- Stanford tops Google.

- Academia tops programmers and coders and CEOs.

- I know about entrepreneurship … 6 years have taught me a lot.

- Being friendly comes naturally but putting people in their place early on when they get out of line is important.

- Jet lag sucks.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Harsh Reality

Just received this message on Facebook and I feel it merits a blog post.

Judgmental much 1

Judgmental much

First line of second image roughly translates into, “It’s people like you who can’t handle the honor Allah bestows on them.

I am not sure what to think of it. Don’t know this guy at all. He added me on FB and I accepted the friend request. As I have done with countless others. That’s all. Also, I don’t know the guy he asked me to reach recommend him to. He also just happens to be on my FB. Are people really naive enough to think that just because someone is a part of your social media network you are actually buddies? And then he goes on to insult me saying there is something wrong with my family background and I am putting obstacles in other people’s way to success!!!!

Sighhhh … this is JUST ONE of such examples. And I am choosing to talk about it because I need my FB/Twitter/LI/Pinterest/SoundCloud ‘friends’ to understand unless we talk on quite a regular basis and know each other professionally I am sorry but I can’t recommend you for a job. Can’t walk up to a friend and say “Hey, this stranger approached me and he wants a job. Give it to him.”

Also, my Gmail and FB ‘Other’ folder is chock full. I try respond to as many people as I can if their message merits a reply but if I don’t see your email and I don’t respond, it’s nothing personal. I am a wife, a mother, a businesswoman and a very faulty human being – some times I just don’t have the time or energy.

On another note, I am very open on social media. I talk about fun, mundane every day stuff instead of posts about how wonderful I am and how busy I am with my work. It helps me relax and keeps me grounded. But at the same time if you are going to come up with negative comments like, “Oh, you should clearly mention a job that’s advertised by WDL is for women only”, and start a solo thread of comments don’t expect me to be good-natured about it. It’s WOMEN’S Digital League – how much more clarity do you need?

And YES I AM ANNOYED. I AM TIRED AND I AM STRESSED AND I CAN’T SLEEP AND I GOT A THOUSAND AND ONE THINGS TO DO WHICH I HAVE NO CLUE HOW I AM GOING TO MANAGE AND I WORRY ABOUT MY PARENTS WHO ARE FAR AND ARE NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER AND I HAVE FRIENDS GOING THROUGH SOME VERY TROUBLED TIMES. So I am sorry if my being human is such an inconvenience to people but that’s who I am and that’s never going to change. THANK YOU!

Bye

Orientation on Digital Livelihood, Going Dutch, Monsoon, and other stories

LCWU DFDI OrientationHad a great orientation on Digital Livelihood at the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU). Being there makes me feel old. GOD! College for me was ages ago. Graduated in 2000. But I digress. So went and told them my story, gave them an idea about working online, an idea of why it was important for women to work. Note to self: I need to work more on it – make it tighter and more focused so I am not running around in circles. Had a healthy turnout. Let’s see how many actually register. You can see album from the orientation here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.658595287580704.1073741924.234046770035560&type=1 

 

Met with my Dutch journalist friend. She ran the story she did last time she was here. It’s in Dutch of course but she said she would share links which of course I will share with you all my lovelies. Amazing how similar people are everywhere. All these differences of religion and culture are in our heads. I mean this woman is from Netherlands. A journalist, a divorcee, with an adopted daughter. On the surface we have nothing in common. But underneath the layers of skin color and clothes and language we are so much alike. Guess when you put away prejudices and preconceived notions and give people a real chance that you see a common thread of humanity. People are born good. It’s time and experiences that turn us more one way or the other. Another note to self: Don’t judge people by who they pretend to be – give them an honest chance. 

The monsoon in Lahore has been CRAZY. Thankfully our house didn’t get flooded but all the ceilings started to leak to an extent that I was scared of turning on the lights in case there is a short circuit. Government and political parties too busy participating in the circus in Islamabad. Lahore, the city that the provincial government promised to turn into Paris, ended up becoming Venice. Case in point … 

Lahore turns into Venice

WDL is giving a scholarship to this AH-MAZING online entrepreneurship mentoring course. ‘Young Entrepreneur Mentorship’ is a 3-semester mentoring program spearheaded by Sandi Krakowski. Sandi is the President & Founder of A Real Change International, Inc. She is also one of the most sought after marketers in the world, specializing in social media, copywriting and digital media. She has homeschooled all 3 of her sons, and has personally mentored many young people who have created a 6-figure income online in under 24 months.

The scholarship is worth $497 and is open for all women between the age of 16 and 25 who are interested in starting their businesses or want to take their business to the next level. More details available at http://www.arealchange.com/blog/young-entrepreneur-mentorship-opens-week

If you or someone you know is interested and exhibits qualities like leadership, passion, perseverance and a strong will to help others then please write to query@womensdigitalleague.com with “The Young Entrepreneur Mentorship” in the subject line. 10 shortlisted women will be interviewed by moi for the spot. Selected person will have to volunteer with WDL for 3 months after the program. 

OK … that’s all folks. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

Right to Life with Dignity

Wrote this few years back for The News blog. Thought I would share it here. Right to Life with Dignity.

Human rights rest on human dignity. The dignity of man is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for. – Robert Maynard

 

My first reaction on reading above quote: *HeadScratch*. All my life I have been told I had the right to life, to healthcare, education, practicing my religion and beliefs. Therefore imagine my surprise when I find out one fine day that the first right in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to life with dignity. What does that even mean? Dear old Google came to my help and I realized ‘Dignity’ is what everything else stems from. Dignity means knowing your worth and valuing yourself because only when we start valuing ourselves do we start asking for more and understanding our rights. Being an entrepreneur myself, the following video by Acumen Fund really struck a chord:

 

Dignity (<= is a link to the YouTube video)

 

People seek dignity, not dependence. Choice, not charity.

 

This has been a bone of contention between me and the foreign donor agencies I meet. They ask why Pakistanis hate them so much despite the aid they are sending. I say, ‘Maybe because you are throwing your aid at them from the back of trucks and enjoying seeing them make a  spectacle of themselves fighting over bags of flour and rice? It would help if you setup a proper system of distributing these goods that wouldn’t compromise their dignity.’

 

When you rip people of their self-respect you take away their most basic and vital human right. This in turn makes them hate themselves for their weakness and others for exploiting it.

 

The truth is that without dignity there can be no equality. And it begins at home. If I don’t love myself enough because of my weaknesses or failures and hence lack self-respect, I give others the power to usurp my rights. Looking down upon one’s self leads to low self-esteem which makes us doubt what we deserve allowing society or certain segments of it to take over our rights.

 

The easiest example that comes to my mind is a question that plagues the life of most women right from childhood to old age, “Am I pretty?” Think about it, look around you. You will hear mothers telling their daughters how pretty they are. Not how good, intelligent or sweet they are but how pretty they are. And when the same little girl grows up and realizes her teeth stick out, or her nose is crooked, or her chest is flat and she doesn’t come up to Hollywood’s interpretation of ‘pretty’ how does that make her feel? Crestfallen! Since the day she was born she has lived thinking being pretty was the best thing she could be and here she is all imperfect. In the process, self-esteem is what she loses. Generations of women come one after the other judging themselves on a yardstick of beauty and then cursing men for objectifying them and not looking beyond their gender or their looks. Just a word of advice for all my gender-mates – listen to this woman and follow her example:

 

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”

 

The day we realize double standard of asking for right to practice our religion anywhere in the world when we look down upon minorities in our own country with loathing we will have a better case. The day women are well represented and at the same time do not expect quotas or ‘seats ‘ in educational institutions as a form of entitlement we know we will be making progress.

Finally the day people realize they cannot ask for a right to clean roads and public toilets while at the same time throwing garbage in front of other people’s homes instead of taking it to the dumpster they will sound more convincing. In short, we have to earn the right to ask for our rights by giving others theirs.

 

The right to life alone is not enough. Its life with dignity that we should strive and struggle for because every other right arises from awareness of our worth and respect for ourselves. I leave you with this thought:

 

Equality lies only in human moral dignity. … Let there be brothers first, then there will be brotherhood, and only then will there be a fair sharing of goods among brothers. - Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

Challenges

Short and sweet. 

Took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Totally nailed it. Would post the video here but I haven’t completely lots it YET so I won’t. 

Was also asked to name my 10 fav books. This I can certainly share. And NO, it does not feature anything by Steve Jobs or Malcolm Gladwell or Napoleon Hill. 

1. All of Enid Blyton. Specially partial to ‘Naughtiest Girl in School’ and ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ series. Famous Five and the Seven Find-Outers are a very close second. Envied Fatty for having his own shed and all those cool disguises.
2. Harry Potter series. Had the privilege of reading the first print and also at a time when it wasn’t the craze it became later. No shame in admitting I was in college at the time and the Prisoner of Azkaban scared the hell out of me.
3. Gone with the Wind. Read the book some gazillion times and can read it another gazillion times. Totally in love with Rhett and more so with the feisty Scarlett O’Hara. Can relate to the pre-Civil War American society’s treatment of women. The sequel ‘Scarlett’ saved me from committing suicide over Rhett’s abandonment of Scarlett.
4. The Anne of Green Gables Series. The first 3 books are my fav. Still lack the courage to read beyond Anne’s House of Dreams.
5. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin.
6. Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Although if you ask me for details I may not know them. But this was when I really understood why Hardy is such a celebrated writer.
7. The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne This hit a chord. One of the most touching, heart-rending books ever written.
8. The Book Thief. A book I read recently. It made me LOL and cry bitter tears too. I know if my grandkids take literature in college they will have this on their course.
9. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Even though Kite Runner is the more famous book, I like this much better.
10. Samarkand. Amin Maalouf is a genius.

Leaving you with some poetry by Omar Khayyam: 

Those whom we meet in churches, divinity colleges or temples
Desire heaven and fear hell;
But he who has read the secrets of the Divine,
Does not give a moment’s thought to such matters. 

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The Dirty ‘F’ Word for Startups and Other Things

The Send Maria To School campaign FAILED! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee (that’s me getting excited over nothing). Couldn’t find 1250 people to donate $8. *Sob. But did find many friends who rose to the challenge and donated very generously. Still a long way from my goal so decided to return the money. 100% of those who wrote back said they wanted me to keep it and use it for WDL. How awesome is that! Here is the thing. Crowdfunding is such a cool concept and it really works. But to make it successful you need to have a team of people working with you. You will need someone to run your social media campaign, do your graphics, write emails to network, send thank you emails, send updates, put up latest info on the campaign on whatever platform you are using and so on. Plus, you need to do it from a proper platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo or if most of your network is in the MENA or Pakistan you can try Zoomaal. With the other 2 platforms sometimes credit cards from these regions are not accepted. Zoomaal is based in MENA so it won’t give you any problem with your plastic. Also, of all the donations received the one that touched me the most is from Sidra Qasim. Sidra is the co-founder of an e-commerce startup called Markhor. Out of nowhere she sent me $50. Knowing how hard-pressed startups are for money this gesture really won me over. Thank you once again Sidra and Waqas. 

Recently made acquaintance of this really inspiring young man. Imran Ali Rajput is the founder of Inovadors, a startup aiming to ‘bridge the gap between education and employment’. This guy came out of nowhere and made it to the first ever week-long MITx Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. He is the only person to get selected from Pakistan. You can read more about it here. Unfortunately he couldn’t find any sponsors. I can’t tell you how frustrated that makes me with everything. We have tons of money to spend on stupid workshops that serve no purpose except to show donor agencies we are doing something. Even more is spent on startup competitions, that I completely endorse, but if startups like Inovadors are not finding sponsors for such huge opportunities then what exactly is the purpose of holding these events? Now he has been selected for the Web Summit in Dublin. I truly hope he finds someone to pay for him to attend. If you know someone who can help or you have any ideas please do share them. 

Above is just one example. The guy just happened to connect with me. I wonder how many others are missing out on huge opportunities just because they can’t find funding. :( 

Other than that, it’s all good. Kids have started school. THANK GOD FOR THAT. They were driving me nuts expecting me to entertain them every day. I have started drinking the yuckiest possible homemade juices. An example? Cabbage, cucumber, spinach, carrot, mango, apple, plum, beet, ginger, lemon concoction. :D Told you it was disgusting. 

The Digital League just finished working on this really cool website for a client. Check it out here. This involved a lot of sweat and blood and I am so proud of my team. I still hope for the day when I can source out such work to WDL. Any girl-coders in Pakistan out there who can deliver such work? DO get in touch. 

Have a workshop at Lahore College for Women University starting 15th September. Looking forward to that. Involves some surprise guests. Will share more later ;) This is strictly for students of the university. However, if you are interested in attending drop me an email at maria (at) womensdigitalleague (dot) com and I will see what I can do. 

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Still waiting for the NGO registration to go through for WDL. Oh yeah … a Malaysian friend/client has got my Hunza team working on a data scraping project. We have 20 women engaged. It’s so awesome. Am really excited. There was definitely a learning curve there and we are still trying to figure out most efficient way of extracting data (we = client and us) but it’s really cool that the women are getting a first hand experience of how online work is actually possible. The procurement officer in Hunza tells me the women are having such a grand time they even come to work on weekends. :) :) It’s my dream to have this model replicated through out Pakistan. 

OK no more to add. Take care my lovelies. Don’t let anyone get you down. Stay away from negative people. You are wonderful as you are. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 P.S. The ‘F’ word = FUNDING